On Jan. 20, 2009, my family and I witnessed history. Like thousands of others, we drove to Washington, D.C., to see Barack Obama sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.
It is difficult to find the words to express what I felt in those moments – knowing the dreams of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and so many others who fought and died for freedom and equality for all God’s children were becoming a reality.
While we still have much ground to cover to achieve racial equality and economic justice in America, President Obama’s election was a step in the right direction as our nation looks to heal from the ugliness of the past and to move toward a spirit of kindness and justice for all.
I am reminded that the inauguration was not only about Obama but also about a hope for the future and our capacity to look beyond our outward differences. The love, care and respect shown by family, friends and strangers in our nation’s capitol that frigid week was a striking example of the grace of God. And it was a blessing to witness.
As my husband, Phalen, and I and our children Tanya (12), Jayda (11), Kennedy ( 9), Trevon (6) and PJ (4) walked the grounds of the National Mall in the days leading up to the inauguration, I could not help but be moved by the sea of red, black, brown, yellow and white faces of the people who had traveled to Washington, D.C. Although most of us were strangers to each other, there was an indescribable bond of peace and unity that held us all together.
In those moments – an experience I will never forget – it did not matter what race we were or what car we drove. It did not matter what level of education we had attained or whether we spoke proper English. And it did not matter what size of home we lived in or whether we lived in the suburbs or the inner city.
What mattered was that we shared a spirit of hope for the future for our country and our children. The tangible, external things that we have learned to place so much value in suddenly did not mean as much to us.
Throughout our stay, I was humbled on more than one occasion by the kindness of others. One such moment of kindness occurred on the evening before the inauguration. My son, PJ, was suffering from frozen hands. As we walked into a local restroom, I was unsure of how to best handle the situation. PJ was in tears as his fingers began to thaw in the warmth of the restroom. Two women, whom I did not know and who did not know each other, took my son from my arms and ran his hands under cold water, comforting him until the pain disappeared.
I was stunned that these women cared enough to minister to the needs of my child – even without my needing to ask for assistance. I gave God praise for sending strangers to help when we needed it most. A simple act of kindness among many.
On the day of the inauguration, I remember having mixed emotions. I was excited and at times overwhelmed, partly because of the monumental nature of the occasion and partly because of the multitude of people in attendance. I have never seen as many people in one place at one time as were on the National Mall that day.
But despite the cold and the crowds, people were in such a joyous mood. It was a beautiful feeling to be in such a large crowd and feel as though I was in fellowship with lifelong friends. I am still amazed by the love, respect and hospitality that we all showed one another while we waited together.
It was clear that this was a moment worth waiting for – a moment in history that my family and I will never forget.
About the author: Nekima Levy-Pounds is an associate professor and director of the Community Justice Project at the St. Thomas School of Law.